Teens in turbulent times

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown had some of the most adverse affects on teenagers. Brimming with life and energy, they were suddenly confined within four walls. Lockdown Voices reached out to Kolkata based personal and academic coach Meetu Chawla, for an in-depth understanding of this impact and how to cope with this situation.

Lockdown Voices (LV): Thank you Meetu for finding time from your hectic schedule. Before we get into the pandemic scenario, please enlighten us on what does it mean to be a coach and how different is it from being a counsellor?
Meetu Chawla (MC): Professional coaching focuses on setting GOALS, creating OUTCOMES and managing PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION. Coaching is future focused. While positive feelings/emotions may be a natural outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating actionable STRATEGIES for achieving specific goals in one’s work or personal life. Counselling on the other hand, often focuses on resolving difficulties arising from the past that hamper an individual’s emotional functioning in the present, improving overall psychological functioning, and dealing with the present in more emotionally healthy ways.

LV: How difficult was the last year as a coach?
MC: Initially, as with every other professional, I too was taken in by the unique situation very abruptly thrust on us because of the pandemic. But very soon, talking to parents and the students, it was clear that they needed support to tide over these challenging times. I reached out to my clients to let them know that my sessions would be offered online. Soon, I started connecting to more families across cities, even from other countries. I also started looking at ways to help teens stay motivated and connect to their “purpose”. Very soon into the lockdown, I launched couple of social impact programs for high-school students, essentially to connect them with other teens and also meaningfully contribute to the community [read more in Bridging the gap].

LV: What has been the situation at home with parents and children confined together for long duration?
MC: Lockdown has been a mixed bag for families. For some, it was a great opportunity to bond with each other. Many families were doing chores together and children were learning accountability and sharing of responsibilities. There was family game and movie time. But there was an inverse situation in many families as well. There was increased conflict and discord within families and mostly the parent child relationship became rocky. There is no instruction manual on how to raise children during a pandemic. Many parents are themselves grappling with their own challenges and confused by how to support their child.

LV: How did lockdown affect children in the past year?
MC: As someone who primarily coaches / mentors students, I could see that the lockdown affected students on multiple fronts. Children were spending more time online, socially isolated from friends, trying to make sense of the online lessons, struggling to complete assignments and dealing with over scrutinising parents. They were also overwhelmed by the grim news of infections trickling in, were terrified of losing their loved ones all while expected to successfully engage with remote learning. This did make their mental health vulnerable and many lost their abilities to stay motivated and socially connect with others.

LC: In your experience, what can students do to cope up with this mental anguish?
MC: Some of the things I found to be helpful are:
* Positive self talk. Keep reminding themselves of times when they did well in a particular event or test or situations.
* Stay away from self doubt. There will be times when a student will feel challenged or incompetent. They should just attempt a small chunk of that task and then take it ahead from there.
* Try keeping in touch with a bunch of friends online for a game or a musical band or a singing group. Being part of any online club will help alleviate stress.
* Become part of a community impact project. When we work for the greater good it builds our self worth.
* Practice mindfulness and meditation regularly. Remember, it is possible to calm our racing thoughts and bring them in our control. It requires practice and consistency.
* If one has extreme periods of feeling low or anxiety, seek help of a professional. Talk to parents or friends about the situation.

LV: Can you recall a specific issue concerning any of your mentees that was really tough to tackle?
MC: There were a few unique challenges that many students were experiencing. Many extrovert students were missing social interactions and the fun moments with schoolmates. On the other hand, introverts who were comfortable being with themselves in front of the screen initially started developing social anxiety later. One of the biggest challenges was to motivate students to have a structured routine everyday. One significant case that I dealt with during lockdown was of a teen self harming herself / himself (keeping both name and gender confidential). There was immense parental scrutiny and to top it the teen wasn’t inclined towards any online learning or test giving. Self-esteem had taken an absolute plunge with increased anger outbursts. I had to depend a lot on art and creative skills to slowly motivate him / her to feel good about self. We formed a great bond of trust and mutual respect. I also started having a lot of political discussions with the teen as that was another area of immense passion. We are still having sessions but things are definitely calmer and looking up.

LV: Can teachers use some of these techniques to keep the child’s interest in academics when school is online?
MC: Firstly, I would like to salute all educators who quickly adapted to the online format of delivery of lessons. Most of them had no training and had to self-learn and improvise to be effective [more in The art of teaching]. Remote learning doesn’t mean that teachers need to be disconnected with their students. In my opinion, a rapport building with students is extremely important for all of them to show up excited for the class. Make interesting presentations or screen share pictures or videos to make the class engaging for most students. Make use of tools like break out rooms to create teams and encourage discussions or presentations. Organise interesting games or short quizzes on the topics being covered, for students to absorb most concepts and also interact with their classmates and steal some laughs.

LV: As you know the class X and XII Board Exams have been pushed to May. How do the children taking these exams keep themselves motivated for the next 3 months?
MC: As exams dates have been announced for most, there is chaos and anxiety around preparedness. Most students are also grappling with focus and scheduling challenges. Its also easy to be distracted frequently while being online for longer periods of time. Some of the things students can start doing to stay motivated :
* Maintain a fixed routine everyday.
* To increase productivity, break down learning materials into smaller chunks and plan the study time.
* Have weekly goals for academic pursuits or syllabus.
* Have a clear and ambitious vision about the future. One can design a vision board to keep oneself motivated.
* Sleep at least 7 hours in a day to rejuvenate the brain cells.
* Exercise or any kind of physical activity for minimum 45 min a day.
* Focus on personal growth. Success will largely depend on one’s mindset and attitude.
* Restrict screen time to only the vitally important stuff.
* Refrain from exam related gossip / rumours with friends or in group chats as that will elevate anxiety.
* Last but not the least, know that any one academic year is not the ultimate decisive year for the future career and fortune. There is going to be life beyond this year, whatever the results in exams.

LV: And what should the parents do? How do they keep their calm?
MC: I have been increasingly engaged with parents during the pandemic. Many parents are themselves going through a challenging time, personally and professionally both. This heightened anxious state can be a trigger for many altercations with their children and spouses. First of all its important for parents to realise that these are extraordinary times and even children are finding it extremely challenging to balance the academic work and their emotional well-being. Every child has unique strengths and skills. Parents need to acknowledge that and then support their child to do their best by leveraging their strengths.

They must avoid comparisons with other children. By labelling the child average or lazy or incapable, they are diminishing the child’s self-belief. And by comparing to others the message conveyed is that the parents don’t see the children as they are. Parents need to understand that academic achievement is not the only way to enhance the confidence of the child. Nor is it the sole parameter for future success. They need to remove the focus from the outcome (or grades) and emphasise on the process or effort – appreciate the children when they put in their best effort even if they don’t score well.

I often tell parents, “You must support your teen to stay motivated and follow schedule. You may tell them that you are around in case they need you or their focus or motivation is dwindling. Appreciate the effort they are putting in and gently nudge them to expand their limit. If you focus on developing their skills for success, you help them prepare for the future than just get good grades in the present exam. Prioritise building a strong and harmonious relationship with your child. Frequently ask them if they want your support or how can you support them to get better at a particular subject. Essentially, let them know you are on their team.”

LV: With many schools now slowly opening up, do the children need to specifically prepare for this?
MC: Most students are excited about schools reopening even if that means to still maintain social distancing. But they must realise that COVID-19 is still out there, so all necessary safety protocols will have to be followed to keep everyone safe. They must start having a routine in place. Getting up early at a fixed time, meals at designated times, sitting on a chair for extended period of time, writing assignments etc., will help them to get acclimatise before the school reopens. Students should be empathetic and compassionate towards their classmates as many would have gone through some traumatic experience of either taking care of a sick family member or losing a loved one.

If one is feeling anxious about being out in public or with groups, avoid being overwhelmed. Meet one friend at a time. Start having telephonic conversations with a few to know more about them and their lives during the pandemic. Take one step at a time. Remember, that in this one year many friends would have been transformed. Allow them space and resist being judgemental of them. Above all, I would tell students to be kind to themselves. Not to be over self-critical. Allow themselves time to get used to a new routine and friends.

LV: What has been your learning as a coach in the past one year?
MC: The pandemic year came with immense learning within its fold. I realised the value of life-long learning as a skill. If one has to be successful, one can never fully depend on one’s circumstances, so we should be prepared to learn and adapt with changing scenarios. Remember, when life serves you lemon, make lemonade! The other significant learning has been taking care of one’s emotional well-being. We can’t take care of others or build harmonious relationships if our cup is empty. Prioritise your mental well-being. Before you can put the oxygen mask on your loved one, make sure you have already put yours!

In any given situation, the power is within us on how to react. We can either feel helpless or we can keep going on with resilience. We can still choose to reach out to people and look for ways to support them. This will bring immense sense of purpose in your life and remove focus from the challenging times. And last but not the least, I learnt that whatever the question (or situation), Love is the answer. Showing empathy and compassion to our children or spouses or other family members can alleviate any difficult situation.

Meetu Chawla is the founder of Thinkerminds, an organisation which imparts mindset training and coaches individuals to design their best life possible. Her expertise is coaching students on achieving both Personal, Emotional and Academic Success. 
She is passionate about motivating individuals, especially teens to find their purpose. Thinkerminds facilitates a few high school fellowships and programs to encourage teens into Changemaking , Social Impact and initiate discussions around social justice and sustainability.

Cover image: Team LV
Story images: Team LV

Standard Disclaimer : The story contributors are responsible for all views and facts provided in their posts. Lockdown Voices and its editorial team is not accountable for the accuracy of the information posted.

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